The Importance of Natural Light (especially when experimenting with colours)

I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience.  You decide to be a little adventurous and try out a combination that you have not tried previously.  Nothing outrageous or far out; perhaps a particular shirt/tie combination that you have not tried before or a jumper under your suit. 

You look in the mirror it all looks good; you check with the people with whom you live and they affirm it looks OK.  However, once you’ve left the house you catch sight of yourself in a shop window, or perhaps you simply look down and you think to yourself, this looked much better in my mind’s eye and certainly looked better in my mirror. So what the heck happened?  That’s the importance of natural light.

nl 3

I get ready for work whilst it’s still dark, especially at this time of year. By the time I leave the house it might be light, but by then I’m already dressed. So I get dressed under light bulbs, which are not the same as natural light.

The energy saving bulbs in our house all emit a sort of yellow light.  So whilst the rooms are well lit everything appears to be a subtly different shade than it actually is because it is under a yellow light. So purples might have a shade of plum, blues have a hint of green, etc.


Much worse however, bright colours can look more muted than they are in reality. So I can recall putting on a bright yellow tie with a pale blue and white striped shirt. I was a little worried that the tie might overpower the shirt but looked in the mirror and it looked OK.  Less than 5 minutes after leaving home, however, as I glanced down it became immediately obvious that the tie was overpowering the shirt. When you looked at me all you saw was my tie shouting, Dom Joly style, ‘HELLO!!!’

Or there was the time I put on a new tie that I was sure was red but once I was wearing it, clearly was not.  It was in fact a sort of fuchsia hot pink.  I have no particular issues with wearing a fuchsia tie, but that wasn’t the look that I was going for on that occasion. Items that appear to be of a similar hue can turn out to be really quite different when viewed in the cold light of day.

Harris Tweed Blazer, Charles Tyrwhitt. It looks a different shade from the image below because seen in different light
Harris Tweed Blazer, Charles Tyrwhitt.
It looks a different shade from the image below because seen in different light

So what to do? Try to get some natural light into your dressing room.  Open those curtains before you leave to have a final check. Obviously when you are working with familiar and tried and tested combinations, you know that they work so it’s not an issue.  However, if you are trying out untested combinations it wouldn’t hurt to make sure that what you think you are seeing in the mirror is in fact the combination that will be seen when you step outside.

And lest you think that this is just an issue at home it is even more of an issue when you are buying clothes. It is virtually impossible to find a shop that is not lit with artificial lighting. If you are buying dark or primary colours I hardly matters. A suit in black or navy or charcoal won’t look that different under artificial light. A shirt in white, or pale blue would be similarly unaffected.

Harris Tweed Blazer2
Harris Tweed Blazer2

But lets say you were looking at a taupe suit or tweed blazer, that’s a whole different ball game. Or if looking at a pair of tan shoes, you don’t know exactly what shade they are until you get them home.  So if you’ve ever bought something that looked great in the shop but with which you were much less enamoured once you got it home, it could well be that you are seeing it under less sympathetic lighting.

So there you have it; natural light. We definitely need it. And not just those of us who are prone to SAD syndrome. Who knew?

What do you think?

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